What’s a Texan doing in Japan? Here’s the backstory: My boyfriend, Brad, spent most of his childhood in Japan, specifically Okinawa. His lovely mother and step-father have worked for the U.S. military in Japan since he was a wee kid. Between April 1-9, we took our second trip to Tokyo to visit his family. Early on in our stay, Brad’s mom and her amazing coworker took us to see Mount Fuji.
Our adventure started at the Kitaguchi Hongu Fuji Sengen Jinja. While people originally worshiped Mount Fuji as a literal deity, the rise of Buddhism lead to the the belief that the mountain (or rather, volcano) was a boundary between the living and dead. The shrine is also the start of the traditional Yoshidaguchi trail, one that is still in use today.
Next stop was the Narusawa Ice Cave, a natural refrigerator and home to the most delicious soft-serve I’ve ever had. (We opted for the vanilla, but it also came in a corn flavor.) Way, way back in the day, the small cave was used to store silk and silk worm eggs. Now it’s a tourist destination along with its sister spot, the Lava Cave, just down the street.
I don’t have any photos of the inside of the cave; I spent more time ducking and clutching the camera than I did snapping pics. Honestly, the most fascinating part of this detour was the short walk through the woods — yes, those woods. The thick forest surrounding the base of Mount Fuji is infamous for attracting people who want to take their own lives. It’s a peaceful place made eerie by the thought that there was a car in the parking lot of the Narusawa Ice Cave abandoned by one of the successful visitors.
Our final destination for the day was Iyashi no Sato, a place is out of time. Picture this: A handful of thatch houses pepper a hillside. Each building features a small museum, gallery, studio or shop. Inside you can learn about a wide range of old-school Japanese trades, from growing wasabi to making paper.
While the houses are mere reconstructions of a very old and very real village (and you can still find modern amenities like vending machines, which are literally everywhere in Japan), Iyashi no Sato still radiates a sense of time travel. I found myself feeling nostalgic for an era and a lifestyle I knew very little about.
After a full day of exploration, we rolled up to our inn, Murahamasou. The in-laws of the aforementioned co-worker operate this quaint bed-and-breakfast on right on Lake Shoji, one of the five lakes resting at the feet of Mount Fuji.
This place had it all: futons, kotatsus (a low table with a heater underneath), tatami mat floors, robes to borrow, an onsen (a communal hot bath), even dinner and breakfast.
Full disclosure: I’m a vegetarian, which is a difficult thing to be in Japan. While we ran across a lot of fresh fruits and veggies, most dishes incorporated meat of some kind, meaning my options for eating “authentic” Japanese food was limited.
However, the folks at Murahamasou knew of my affliction and prepared not one, but two fantastic traditional spreads that were entirely veggie-friendly. When I say dinner was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had, that is not an exaggeration. I ate it all — fresh mushroom hot pot, tempura vegetables, rice with nori, and more. Kumpai!
And here it is, the moment we had been waiting for: Mount Fuji. This is the view of the majestic mountain (ahem, volcano) from the shores of Lake Shoji just outside of our inn.
Mount Fuji is often called shy because it is shrouded by clouds and mist on most days. Thankfully an early-morning sun burnt up most of the moisture, offering this clear shot of Fuji-san.
Our original plans called for a climb up Mount Fuji to the fifth station, but unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and our trip was cancelled. Fuji-san … I’ll be back for you one day.
Before we headed back to Tokyo, we swung by the Fuji Kachoen Flower and Owl Park (or Garden Park). Flowers and owls were certainly the stars, but we also found rabbits, penguins, hawks, flamingos and a few more feathered friends. The vibrant colors and soft scents of this small paradise were equally captivating — the soft scents of the flowers, that is. The owls were fragrant in a less pleasant way, but just as gorgeous.
Our adventure in Tokyo began with a trip to Kawasaki to see the Shinto Kanamari Matsuri. Spoilers: It involved a lot of penises.
All photos were taken with a Canon T5i.